What Joe Sakic, Nathan MacKinnon can learn from Lightning in extending Cup window

DENVER — A little story about the Tampa Bay Lightning tells us something about where the Colorado Avalanche — but a win away from jubilation — might be heading.

In the summer of 2016, before becoming two-time champions, the Lightning were an incredible, fast-paced, rising young competitor.

Its captain and best player, Steven Stamkos, was an imminent free agent who had recently suffered a heartbreak in the Cup final. He peeked out the door and wondered if the grass wasn’t greener. He was courted by the Toronto Maple Leafs, his hometown, and also received phone calls from other people.

In the end, Stamkos opted to stay put and accept then-general manager Steve Yzerman’s offer for an eight-year extension at $8.5 million per season, turning down fatter checks from competitors. from Tampa.

Take less with the hope of earning more.

Stamkos picked up the phone and dialed defender and unofficial brother Victor Hedman’s number 1 – next in line for a raise.

“Of course, as soon as I found out I was signing, we had a chat. And he says, ‘OK, I’m doing mine too,’ Stamkos says. “It feels like an eternity, but obviously a decision that has worked. It was the pinnacle for both of us, and I’m really happy that Heddy and I were able to pull this thing off.

“Who knows what would have happened [if I didn’t sign]? We’ll never know.

When the raises came due, one of the biggest nuclei of the salary cap era lined up.

Of course, Florida’s tax benefits and year-round Jet Ski lifestyle didn’t hurt. But Victor Hedman ($7.875 million AVV) and Andrei Vasilevskiy ($9.5 million), Brayden Point ($9.5 million) and Nikita Kucherov ($9.5 million) have all pledged for less than $9.5 million. money than they would have received elsewhere.

But money similar to each other.

That same us-before-me culture that hockey folks glorify, the one that breeds fearless shooting blocks and 1-0 wins, applied to player bank accounts.

It’s not lost on management.

“Guys have made so many sacrifices to get here, physically, emotionally, financially, in some cases, to deserve this opportunity,” Lightning general manager Julien BriseBois said. “Now we can chase a Cup in 2022 and it’s an amazing opportunity for our guys.”

Would the Lightning have won the Stanley Cup if Stamkos & Co. hadn’t shaved the top off a bit? Maybe.

Of them? Doubtful.

Reaching three consecutive finals under a flattened salary cap in the event of a pandemic? Big luck.

Securing high-end, elite talent at reasonable rates allows executives to fill out the roster with true depth.

When free agency hits, does a star player want to use league-wide comparables to maximize their salary? Or does it just adhere to the organization’s internal ceiling plan?

Stamkos established Tampa’s in 2016.

Patrice Bergeron established Boston in 2014, with studs like Brad Marchand, David Pastrnak and Taylor Hall slipping under Bergeron’s number ($6.875 million).

Now, Nashville wants UFA pending Filip Forsberg to slip under Roman Josi’s $9 million cap.

This is an effective method to widen the window of discord.

And that gives a GM more leeway to seek creative bids for add-on parts, the Nick Pauls and Brandon Hagels of the world.

“Financially and the ugly three-letter word called caphaving to deal with that,” Lightning coach Jon Cooper said of the GM challenge.

“As I say about our GM, you have to put your you-know-what on the line. Because he makes a few trades and people in your position maybe say, ‘I can’t to believe he gave it up for this,” and it takes a special personality to be able to do that.

Which brings us to Colorado and why the Avs need to seize the moment in front of them.

Because let’s be honest, Joe Sakic: with 10 UFAs pending, this is the best roster you’ll have in a while. To correct?

“What we know is that we have a great core at an older age. But, yes, we like the team we have here. We feel we have a really deep team, top to bottom in the formation,” Sakic responds.

“Is there any uncertainty? Yeah. But every team has uncertainties now, especially with a flat cap. It’s harder when you’re already [at the ceiling]. But I know the belief in our room is that they’re here. They are there, and they are so close.

“They have an expectation. And that’s to try to win the Cup.

With July 13 fast approaching, Sakic is at risk of losing No. 1 goalie Darcy Kuemper; Center No. 2, Nazem Kadri; Valeri Nichushkin, forward striker and candidate for Conn Smythe; as well as major players Andre Burakovsky, Josh Manson, Darren Helm and Andrew Cogliano.

“I don’t think we’re the only team to feel that in the next few years. There are a lot of great teams and you have to take advantage of every opportunity that comes your way,” says Sakic.

“That being said, we have a good core of youngsters.”

The hot center of that core is Nathan MacKinnon, a 2023 UFA eligible to re-sign an eight-year extension as early as July 13.

In many ways, MacKinnon is inspired by local friend Sidney Crosby, the NHL poster boy for taking less so the team could earn more.

Incredibly, Crosby was never the highest paid player in the league.

If he wants to secure the bag, of course, MacKinnon (heavily underpaid today at $6.3m) could try Connor McDavid’s $12.5m AAV next summer on the market. free. Alternatively, he could follow Crosby and Stamkos’ lead and keep the group together.

“We’ve got guys we couldn’t (otherwise) bring in,” MacKinnon said. Forbes in 2019 of his below-market salary.

“In my next contract, I will take even less. Because I want to win with this group.

The question can become: Win once or win many times?

Granted, Sakic will lose Kadri and others, but Cale Makar, Gabriel Landeskog, Devon Toews, Samuel Girard and Mikko Rantanen are on fair numbers.

MacKinnon will tell some in helping extend the Avalanche’s window how far his next contract will exceed Rantanen’s $9.2 million cap.

It’s definitely Colorado’s best shot at winning a Stanley Cup.

But it may not be the last.

“I wouldn’t think so. I hope not. But for sure we are so close and we have as good a team as we have had here for a long time. So last year we thought we had a very good team – we didn’t make it,” says Sakic.

“This year, we feel that we are close. We are here [one win] away and hopefully we can make the leap.

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